Near the end of last year, I had the privilege of attending a UNICEF meeting in New York which brought together representatives of major international child protection and child care agencies. The meeting led on from the work of a coalition of 87 national and international networks and organisations - including CELCIS - who have been actively advocating for the UN to adopt a resolution on the rights of children without parental care. This has included signing a joint Open Letter: 'A Call to Action to Leave No Child Behind'.
As a result of such active lobbying, the news was issued that the European Union with the Latin American and Caribbean Group have selected the topic “children without parental care” to be the proposed as the theme for the annual UN General Assembly resolution on the Rights of the Child in 2019. This resolution would help create a mechanism by which UN Member States would have to report to the General Assembly on the progress they are making to fulfil the rights of children without parental care and provide essential support to them.
During the meeting in New York parties agreed on the importance of speaking with one voice and so agreed a set of recommendations that we would like to see included in the proposed UN resolution, including that it should be: ‘holistic, robust and ambitious, so that children without parental care or those at risk of losing parental care can benefit from this resolution for the years to come.’
Representing CELCIS, I spoke to the meeting about our hope and wish that every child in the world could be able to grow up in the safe and loving care of their parents, and that when this is not possible, at a minimum, they can remain in the protective care of their extended family. If however, following all efforts possible to keep a child at risk of harm safely within their family, CELCIS recognises the importance of providing a range of appropriate care settings. Our many years of work at CELCIS has been driven by this principle.
It is only with choices that we can meet the individual needs, circumstances and wishes of each child in need of alternative care. The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, makes it clear that each Member State needs to provide a range of high quality, family-based and family-like care. Provision of family-based care, for example foster care, can allow a child to still live within a family environment. However, we must also recognise this is not always the most suitable care for some children. Indeed children themselves have told me this explaining for example, how they would experience a strong feeling of disloyalty towards their own family. Some older children may not want to adapt to such an environment preferring instead, semi-independent living before aging out of care. The ‘suitability’ principle as set out in ‘Moving Forward’ written by CELCIS to accompany these UN Guidelines, helps us to consider if and when family-like care – such as the provision of small group homes – are therefore in a child’s best interest and if so, this should be made available to them.
Of course at the meeting we also considered the millions of children who are being raised in large institutions in places across the world – the vast majority of whom, are in care unnecessarily. We unanimously agreed to continue calling on Member States to uphold the vital recommendation in the UN Guidelines requiring the progressively elimination of such institutions and pledge to continue to support efforts by them to do this.
I hope the proposed UN General Assembly resolution on the Rights of the Child[i] in September 2019 not only comes to fruition but recognises the importance of providing children with the range of care options that they deserve and, asking us to support and provide. No child should grow up in an institution and we need to see further investment in essential support services to ensure that no child is ever unnecessarily separated from their family.
The international child protection and child care community has come a long way, and I think what is vital is that the child protection and child care community continue to speak with one voice and uphold the international guidance we have all worked to agree together. This means continuing to recognise and jointly advocate for the agreed recommendations in the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and use ‘Moving Forward’ to help implement them in order to safeguard all our children now and in the future.
[i] The 2018 UN General Assembly’s Rights of the Child Resolution was adopted on 17th December 2018, confirming in paragraph 59 (a) that the theme for the 2019 Resolution will be the rights of children without parental care. This Resolution will be adopted during the next annual session of the GA, starting in September, and Member States will now engage in negotiations with a view to reaching agreement on its text.